In this essay, aspects of short stories explained in class have been analysed in order to obtain a deep insight into the characteristics of Katherine Mansfield’s The Lady´s Maid, and answer properly the proposed questions. The essay is divided in two parts. The first part comprehends the analysis of the following aspects of short stories: story, plot and suspense; narrator’s point of view; characterization; setting; tone and style; irony; symbol; and finally, theme. This analysis is our main support for dealing with the questions proposed for the essay, which will be answered in the second part. The different aspects of the essay we have analysed before dealing with the questions are explained below. SUSPENSEThe Lady’s Maid is not a story of suspense in the strict sense. The main character tells some important events about her life in chronological order. There is a very little tension; the lack of suspense can be explained by the lack of a tightly plot (one event is the consequence of another and everything happens for a purpose.) However, the reader keeps the interest in reading because he or she wants to know what is going to happen next. Particularly, in this short story there is a moment of suspense when the lady is aware that she is going to lose her maid when she marries; the lady, for fear of losing her, tries subtly to influence her decision through her behavior. The reader might wonder if this behavior will influence her maid’s decision. The reader wants to know whether the maid would be able to break off her engagement to remain with her lady. The uncertainty is not hold for a long time; the result is quickly revealed by the narrator.Besides, another moment of suspense can be seen at the end of the story. The reader probably wants to know what will happen with the maid when her lady dies. In this respect, the reader should imagine it because he or she will never know.NARRATOR´S POINT OF VIEWThe Lady’s Maid is narrated in the first person by a maid called Ellen. The narrator’s point of view not only refers to the relation between the narrator and the story but also to the attitude of the writer to her own story. The whole story is narrated under the protagonist’s point of view and this position is maintained from the beginning to end.The narrator is a participant and a major character, in other words, she is personified (writing in the first person) because she can be recognized by the reader as a distinct person with individual human characteristics.Ellen maintains a kind of dialogue with the madam in which only the maid participates, like a one-sided conversation. The reader must imagine what the madam would reply. Ellen is telling about her life so that, her experiences have a subjective view of the facts. The story is depicted through her eyes, her opinions, her thoughts and her emotions. She describes the characters from inside as a partial onlooker and she has a specific way of expressing herself according to her social class.The first person narrator provides credibility to the character; she becomes real for the reader. It also allows communicating the main theme of this short story.SETTING All the information about the setting of this story is presented in an extraordinarily subtle manner, as the author manages to create a personal and intimate atmosphere since the very beginning of the story with almost no use of direct descriptions of the setting where the story takes place.”Eleven o´clock. A knock at the door.” This is the opening sentence of the story. It is the only fragment of the story which seems to be written by the author, and not uttered by Ellen. As a matter of fact, it is written in italics, in a very similar way as speech directions are used in drama. It does not detail the setting, but provides with a glimpse of the atmosphere where the plot takes place to introduce the reader to the story. As it is eleven o´clock, it is late at night, time to go to bed, so the situation between Ellen and the madam is more personal and intimate than it would have been earlier on the day “… I hope I haven´t disturbed you, madam. You weren´t asleep – were you?”. It seems as if they are alone and everyone else is sleeping or just about to go to sleep. Thanks to the knock at the door we notice the situation takes place into a house or a mansion, inside a building. Indeed, as readers we can infer that the scene takes place in a bedroom. The fact that the conversation takes place in the bedroom late at night adds more intimacy to the scene. Also, Ellen has apparently left her lady sleeping: “But I´ve just given my lady her tea, and there was such a nice cup over (…) I always make a cup of tea last thing. She drinks it in bed after her prayers to warm her up.” That Ellen has left her lady in bed adds to the atmosphere of the scene, and makes it more personal. Now, madam and Ellen are completely alone so they can speak about whatever they wish. Some more information about the setting can be inferred from the conversation of Ellen with the madam. Ellen mentions that she once was at Sheldon in a fair of the common. As Sheldon is a location in the West Midlands of England, close to Birmingham, we can deduce that the story takes place in England. Also, paying attention to Ellen´s job as a maid, and taking into account several other things she mentions such as her maid uniform or her grandfather´s hair-dresser´s shop, the story could possibly take place in the early 20th Century.IRONY Irony is present in the story in a subtle manner, as it is hard to find any overtly ironic sentence or situation within the story. The most ironic point of the story could be the narrator´s point of view. From the conversation that takes place in the story, we can only find Ellen´s utterances. The utterances made by madam, who is the other part of the conversation, do not appear in the text. Then, the story is completely oriented towards Ellen, and she is the main subject of the conversation. We get to know a lot about her feelings and her past from this conversation. The ironic point of this is that Ellen is a person completely devoted to serving her lady, and she had decided to entirely focus her life on serving her. So, Ellen, who had decided to reject her individuality and independence, now is the one who the spotlight of the story is completely focused on. There is a highly ironic contrast on this. Also, when young, Ellen decided to leave her grandfather in order to escape his control, apparently trying to find more independence. But soon she became a maid later on her life. There is a continuous confrontation between Ellen´s individuality and her position as a maid devoted to her lady. Ellen is completely dedicated to serving her lady, to the point she abandoned the man she was about to marry so she could keep on taking care of her, but still she shows individuality. For example, she had decided to bring a cup of tea to madam by her own, she tried to spread out an eiderdown when her lady prays, and she needed to say she wanted a donkey-ride after she brought the two young ladies for a ride on the donkeys. This confrontation gets ironical sometimes, especially when Ellen talks about the donkeys. She had spent her whole life serving her lady, but apparently she had received very little in return. The whole situation of Ellen is ironic in the sense that she is completely blind to see her lady´s true intentions. She thinks of her as a kind lady, when the lady is actually manipulative and egocentric. As an example, the lady psychologically manipulated Ellen to not to marry, as when she dropped her handkerchief and stood down to pick it down herself, telling Ellen she would have to get used to it. The story gets especially ironic when Ellen says “People must have laughed if they saw me…”. Ellen says this sentence several times during the story, after narrating an embarrassing episode of her life, such as when she escaped the grandfather or when she ran trying to chase Harry.CHARACTERIZATION Several characters are presented in this short story. Most of them are flat or static characters, because they do not suffer any evolution or development. We have considered as flat characters the following:Grandfather: He only appears in an indirect form when Ellen is talking to the maid. He is described as a very angry and furious person.Madam: The reader knows nothing about her. She only appears as the receiver of what the maid is saying.Lady: She is the most influential character to the maid, although there is not much information about her, only what Ellen tells about her.Harry: He was Ellen´s fiancé. The only character who seems to experience an evolution is the maid, Ellen. She is increasingly obsessed with the lady, since just working for her to the point of rejecting her fiancé and devoting herself to her lady. Despite growing on intensity, her motivation is always the same, and for this reason it can be also considered a flat character. Ellen is very dependant of her lady, and her life and decisions are conditioned by the lady´s decisions. She is the protagonist and the only character whose utterances appear in the text. There are no heroes or antiheroes as such in the story, all the characters are ordinary and common.TONE AND STYLE The story is written in a style that imitates the conversational speech; in fact, it is a dialogue. The voice of the author is present only in the first line, and in a manner quite similar to that of a stage direction: Eleven o’clock. A knock at the door. Everything else in the texts corresponds to a dialogue, with one special feature: The reader gets to know only half the content of such dialogue. It is a conversation between the maid and some “madam”, but we only read the words of the former. By analyzing what the maid says, we can deduce, to some degree, the contents of the madam’s interventions. The style is, as mentioned before, oral. The maid, which is the main (and only) speaker, utters the word “Madam” very frequently, not only to answer, but also to convey emphasis in some points of the conversation, or just to keep her interlocutor’s attention (we can see here the phatic function of language in use). We can also see some emphatic marks that help to the oral style: Oh yes; oh, madam!; well, of course; now, then; would you believe it, etc. These are very common in a conversation: they fill gaps, so to say, in order to allow the dialogue to advance, just like some question tags: But, there, thinking’s no good to anyone – is it, madam? The use of hyphens to signal brief interruptions in the discourse, or rather, an absence of linking words: …and the eyes – so gentle – and the soft ears – made me want to go… The tone of the story is to be found in the maid’s interventions, as there is no other narrator to analyse here. She speaks in a somewhat unconcerned manner when it comes to herself, in stark contrast with the caring way of talking she uses when his lady is the subject of the conversation. Only when she tells the most emotional part of her memories (the rejection of her husband-to-be), only then she seem a little more emotional, but again, it is when her lady enters the scene. The maid ends his last intervention with a soft reprimand (you silly girl!)SYMBOLThe story does not contain much elements identifiable as symbols. We find, however, one thing that could have some symbolic value. Flowers appear at the end and the beginning of Ellen’s account: Pansies around the faces of her lady’s mother, and the flower-shop of Harry (both characters are significant to Ellen, although Harry ends up being put aside in favour of the lady). It is also significant that, when Ellen takes a glance at her maid, she remarks the similarity with the mother: “If only the pansies was there no one could tell the difference”.THEME In this short story there are many themes that they can be analyzed through different ways. Ellen was a girl who grew up with her grandfather because she lost her mother when she only was four. So she never had fraternal love and every restriction was normal for her. The control that other people have over Ellen is present in this story, first of all she is controlled by her grandfather and then she became a servant or maid when she was thirteen. In some cases the reader thinks that Ellen is thinking for herself, for example when she runs away after her grandfather burns her hand with hot tongs from the hairdresser’s shop where he worked. In this particular case our protagonist scapes because she did not want to be controlled by others. However she became a maid at last and she had two ladies to serve.”That’ll teach you!” he said. It was a fearful burn. I’ve got the mark of it to-dayShe really dependences on her two ladies because she does not have anything else in the world. So that reliance turns into a comfortable life for Ellen, who is an excellent maid but she also does things without instruction for the welfare of her old lady. For example: she lays an eiderdown on the floor when her lady kneels down to pray or she puts some purple pansies when her lady´s mother dies next to the body.Another theme is the disappointment that Ellen feels when she and her lady´s nieces are on the beach looking at the donkeys. She is wearing an uniform and she has a position in the society in which she should not ride the donkeys. Despite of having responsibilities as a servant in Mansfield, she dreams and shouts that night about how much she desires to ride those animals….and then suddenly I sat up and called out as loud as I could, I do want to go on a donkey. I do want a donkey-ride!”And the last theme would be the guilt. Ellen rejected Harry when he went to ask for marriage. They were in love but the rejection was based on the lady´s opinion. Her lady was old and Ellen helps her in the daily routines and she depended on Ellen for everything. If our protagonist had accepted the proposal of marriage her old lady would die alone but if Ellen had not accepted to Harry as husband she would be a spinster forever.Despite the decision she makes, she would always feel guilty. So she had to choose between her love and to have a new life or the lady she served for years and form that moment she would be helpless. This is a hard decision and more for Ellen who is a very kind and charitable woman. And finally she stayed at his mistress’s side and she never allowed himself to dream or distract in her work. And if ever I do I pull myself up sharp, “Now, then, Ellen. At it again —you silly girl! If you can’t find anything better to do than to start thinking!… ” · Discuss how the author’s choice of that particular point of view helps communicate a central theme of the tale.Her engagement with Harry was an act of individualism (one of the themes of this short story). However, when she breaks off her engagement and decides to remain with her lady, this decision clearly highlights another theme of the short story which is reliance. Thanks to the first person narrator, she can show his thoughts and emotions and the reader can understand better the reasons why she makes such a decision:”Oh no, Ellen,” she said, “you mustn’t mind about me. You mustn’t disappoint your young man.” And so cheerful, you know, madam, never thinking about herself. It made me feel worse than ever … Oh, it was all I could do not to burst out crying.· Discuss how the narrator’s point of view is essential to the reader’s recognising and understanding the theme. Support your argument with specific observations and analysis.The first person narrator is essential to understand the themes of regret and disappointment that we can observe in this short story. The reader can understand how the character feels because she expresses herself on her own voice. There is an example of that when Ellen wishes to go on a donkey ride and afterwards, while she goes to bed and shouts out: “I do want a donkey-ride!”· Show how the character of the narrator determines the style of the story. Examine language in particular – slang expressions, figures of speech, local or regional speech. The character of the narrator, in this case, has to determine the style of the story because there are no more voices to be heard We learn about the lady, her mother, the grandfather, and Harry through the eyes of Ellen. The axis of the story is the devotion of Ellen for her lady: the narrator drops sweet remarks about her here and there; there is a poignant moment when shesees her lady reaching for her handkerchief, and grief overtakes her: “It was all I could do not to burst out crying … oh, Madam!” Ellen’s story is also our only way of knowing about her psychology. Aside from the dedication to her lady, she appears to have a down-to-earth attitude, casting aside concerns and dreams: “But, there, thinking’s no good to anyone -is it, Madam? Thinking won’t help. She tells her story mostly in a light-hearted manner. Since the style is clearly conversational, the narration is dotted with expressions that denote a more informal register: “Well…would you believe it?…believe me or not…funny, wasn`t it…” The style is not obscure, it does not show any form of slang or jargon, the English used here is quite neat, in contrast with other stories that depict the language of popular classes (G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion and its flower-girl). · Write a short essay that explains why a character (protagonist) takes a crucial life-changing action. What motivates this character to do something that seems bold or surprising? The decision the maid takes regarding Harry is the climax of the story: the most decisive renounce for Ellen, the renounce to her future husband. The reason for it appears clear: her lady. In the moment Ellen tells her his decision of leaving, the lady suddenly appears to her as helpless and feeble, and things turn round: the marriage is cancelled. After this act, some questions arise: Is this a relationship of dependence? Should we consider this bond between these women as something good or bad? To find an explanation for Ellen´s decision, we need to look at her past. Ellen lost her mother when she was only four years old, and perhaps it had an important impact on her life. She did not have a motherly figure in her early years, so it is possible that she found this motherly figure in her lady, and that could be the reason why the lady exerts an influence too powerful on Ellen, thus preventing her from venturing into the “outer world” (that is, marrying and leaving her). We could even speculate with the possibility that the lady manipulates her maid by feigning weakness, (even if her words encourage Ellen to leave). Although afterwards Ellen seems not to worry much about it (just like she does with most issues), her remark “Oh, dear, sometimes I think…”, and the fact that she opened the door and ran into the street after rejecting Harry casts some doubts: Is she happy with her decision?
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